Maya Angelou’s poem addresses the harsh realities of the African Americans. In “the free bird”, she adumbrates what living in freedom means and in “the caged bird”, the sad reality of living in a segregating society where one is not welcomed.
In her contrast of “the free bird” and “the caged bird”, Maya draws a line between how things should be and how things are for the black Americans in a country they call theirs.
Some of the dominant figures of speech in Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird include metaphor, personification, alliteration, and repetition.
(1) Metaphor: There are manifestations of metaphor in lines 11 and 27:
“… bars of rage” (Line 11)
“… the grave of dreams” (Line 27)
(2) Personification: There is use of personification in lines 24 and lines 28:
“… sighing trees” (Line 24)
“his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream” (Line 28)
Sighing and shouting are human attributes.
(3) Alliteration manifests in lines 8, 10, 24, 25, 26 and 28:
“But a bird …” (Line 8)
“Seldom see …” (Line 10)
“Soft through sighing trees” (Line 24)
“Worms waiting …” (Line 25)
“He … his own” (Line 26)
“Shadow shouts” (Line 28)
(4) Assonance can be found in lines 14 and 25:
“So he opens his throat to sing” (Line 14)
“Dawn bright lawn” (Line 25)
(5) Repetition: There is repetition of stanza three in stanza six. The refrain emphasises freedom as a basic human feature.
(6) Symbolism: The poem is filled with symbols. As have been earlier suggested in our analysis of the poem, the caged and free birds are symbolic representations of white and black Americans respectively.
The cage in itself represents the ghetto neighbourhoods such as Southside Chicago where the blacks are restricted to, for accommodation. Even with the ramshackle buildings, they are made to pay more tenement fees than necessary.
They are restricted to black-only or coloured schools and menial jobs such as nanny, chauffeur and so on.
(7) Irony: There is also a tincture of irony in the poem. The caged bird with all his torturous condition is heard “on distant hills” while the free bird with all his luxuries is not heard.
Also, the caged bird in his captivity learns to value freedom than the free bird enjoying the freedom.
And then, when one looks at the title of the poem, one hardly expects a contrast of the free bird and the caged bird.